Creative Nonfiction

All in the Cards

IN CREATIVE WRITING courses, we’re often told that quotidian topics make the best grist for the mill. We’re asked to consider the most mundane of items, the ones we step over in the houses of our memories or don’t notice because they are always there.

Lotería, the popular Mexican bingo game, was such an item for me when I was a kid in the 1970s, growing up in Laredo, Texas, on the USMexico border. It did not have the shine of the board games my siblings and I played on long, languid evenings when our homework was all done. Monopoly had the monopoly on them all with its play money, and the Game of Life seemed almost as important, with the allure of adult themes of marriage and careers, but those games were too difficult for the younger siblings who wanted to join in.

When my mom said to play a game everyone could participate in, out came Lotería.

Lotería—Spanish for “lottery”—is a game of pure chance, similar to bingo. Each player gets at least one —a board with a four-by-four grid of pictures—and a pile of markers, often pennies or uncooked/The Lady and #34: /The Soldier) and animals (e.g., #50: /The Fish). There are plants (e.g., #51: /The Palm Tree) and fruit (e.g., #28: /The Watermelon) and musical instruments (e.g., #29: /The Drum). Sundry items round out the fiftyfour cards. They are commonplace items, like #46: /The Sun and #16: /The Flag and #5: /The Umbrella. Players try to be the first to cover a row or all the squares on their tabla, and then shout, “¡Lotería!” It’s an easy game to play.

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